Belize is well served by cellular service that covers most of the country and certain marine areas close to major coastal population centers. The major telecommunication company is government owned and controlled Belize Telemedia Limited. The second company SMART is privately owned.
Belize Telemedia Ltd. offers its cellular service under the “DigiCell,” brand, a digital service on the GSM dual band 850/1900 MHz technology. Cell plans in Belize are easy to understand. Basically they can be broken into two segments – Post and Pre Paid.
Digicell Post Paid plans are attractive for businesspersons, Belizeans or expatriates residing here. The cell number is permanent. If you damage or lose your cell phone or the SIM card, you can get a replacement SIM for a nominal charge with your same number. Post Paid Plans are Offered under the Digicell Premier Plan which has the following requirements:
Current Passport or Belize Social Security Card. A non-Belizean resident must produce evidence of intended Belizean residence for the next 12 months. A deposit may be required. This is determined at the time of activation at DigiCell locations. Services such as IDDD and Roaming are subject to additional deposit.
Digicell Service Plans
The top of the line package is the Digicell Elite that offers 1,200 anytime minutes and 40 SMS a month for U.S. $100 a month. This is followed by the Digicell Executive offering 800 anytime minutes and 40 SMS for U.S. $75. a month. Next down is the Digicell Platinum Plan that gives users 500 anytime minutes and 30 SMS for U.S. $50. a month. And the most economical plan is the Digicell Gold that offers 250 anytime minutes and 30 SMS for U.S. $25. a month.
Note that if you go over your plan limits, excess minutes are charged at U.S. $0.25 peak and U.S. $0.12 1/2 cents off peak. International Calls and Operator Assisted calls are not included in Plan minutes thus users should tend to avoid long collect calls which can easily ramp up your charges. As a perk, Platinum and Executive customers enjoy roll over minutes.
Digicell Pre Paid Service is used by the majority of Belizeans. There is no contract or any forms to sign up for. You can use any GSM capable telephone. Simply purchase a SIM from most shops or at a BTL office in any major town along with a pre paid card in values ranging from U.S. $2.50 up to U.S. $25.00, enter the pin number into your phone and you are topped up. You can also add credit to your Digicell phone yourself; top up services are available at most any shop or supermarket in Belize, and even roving cell phone credit peddlers on the street. BTL has recently deployed new mobile service plans. The Current Plans range from Gold that gives your 250 minutes airtime and 30 SMS per month, and up to up to Elite that gives Belize Telemedia Limited cellular users 1,200 minutes and 40 SMS per month. The current plans are near worthless from an SMS point of view as most serious texters will eat up 30 texts a day.
You should note that BTL pre-paid cards expire 90 days after activation. There are no roll-over minutes if you do not use your card before this time period.
BTL has recently enhanced the above plans by rolling out the new OnNet Plan. The plan cheekily does not offer the sweet and semi balanced spot of $100. dollars a month which is the Platinum Plan with 500 minutes airtime and 30 SMS a month. For 50% more – an extra $50 dollars which is a total of BZ $150. a month, cellular users have the 1000 OnNet Plan – 1,000 minutes air time a month and NO SMS. Yes. Zero SMS, except that you do get to become become a Weekend Text / SMS Warrior as the plan offers get FREE SMS all weekend long – from 6 PM Fridays up to 6 am. Mondays.
A way to save money is to blackout or curtail SMS use during the work week by acquiring a smartphone such as the Blackberry, Android, Nokia or other cellular handsets and use these to communicate with friends and colleagues via email through your personal, office, free WIFI in certain restaurants etc. during the week, and then use SMS only on the weekends.
On May 2014 BTL degraded on its Double Up promotions. Under these promotions, on special days such as paydays and holidays, for example, a purchased $10. credit is automatically doubled to $20. But what the TV ads do not say and what is the fly in the ointment, is that this extra value slides into a “Bonus Credit Plan” that can only be used to call or send SMS within the BTL local network. You cannot use it to make a call or send an SMS outside Belize, or call or send an SMS to SMART or any other telco provider. And the life of this “Bonus” auto deletes in 30 days if not utilized.
The End Of The VOIP Embargo
With effect from 1 May 2013, VOIP was no longer be blocked in Belize. For many years Belizeans, apart from enduring exorbitant telephone and Internet access rates from the government controlled Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), had no access to VOIP. On 28 April 2013 Prime Minister Barrow bowed to public pressure and announced the end of the VOIP embargo.
The action came as no favor to the consumers. Rather the VOIP block had become something of a joke as technology to unblock the telephone company’s blockade had become common. And new Internet providers, such as SMART and Southern Cable accessing their own data feed from Mexico and Guatemala respectively, had been taking away customers from BTL by offering unfiltered Internet access at very competitive rates. SKYPE, VONAGE, Google Talk and other services previously denied to the public are now a reality in Belize.
DigiCell Data Service allows GSM customers to send and receive 3G data using their mobile phones. Customers are able to send and receive e-mails and surf the Internet anywhere there is DigiCell service. A GSM phone such as PDA’s, GSM/GPRS handsets using data cables and Sierra Wireless Air Card for laptops is required for this service.
BTL has introduced wireless CDMA service throughout most areas of Belize in October 2010. While not as fast as ADSL, the CDMA wireless service offers reasonable shared Internet bandwidth at 2MB (speeds varies during the day and depends on user activity) and also voice telephone in areas that are nor currently serviced by land line. As the plan has rolled out users in rural areas who depend on this service where ADSL is not available, have complained bitterly that speeds have slowed down to a crawl.
Digicell 4G Service
4G Service was announced by BTL in later 2012 and became active in December 2012. The 4G service was deployed to the entire country by April 2013. Customers report reasonable service. But do not think for a minute of getting 4G speeds of 25 Mbps or better. BTL caps its 4G service at 3G levels. Users on Belizean forums report an average download speed of 4 to 5 Mbps but this goes down to 1 Mbps on highways and during times of congestion. The company is not ready to give up the huge mark ups any time soon, but SMART / SPEEDNET is slowly taking away some of its customers. BTL describes its offering as “HSPA+ technology; a technology capable of giving a 4G experience directly from your mobile phone/device.”
The BTL Digicell 4G service offers various plans, with the more popular one being the “Unlimited” Plan offering 10GB of data a month for U.S. $50. Service is severely throttled down after the allocated date is consumer. The fastest and best BTL 4G offering is described as The Enterprise Plan that provides 50GB per month for U.S. $500.00
SMART Cellular Service from Speednet Communications
Smart Telecom Belize offers much the same service as Digicell except that it uses the CDMA network spectrum. Smart offers slightly lower prices compared to Digicell and its telephones do not is require a SIM card. SMART began operating in March 2005 and is privately owned.
Digicell and Smart are in heavy competition and both companies offer generous discounts for pre-paid customers. These are in the form of double up or triple up days, usually timed to coincide with workers’ paydays on the 15th and end of the month and also on certain holidays. On these days advertised in the local media and depending on the amount of credit or top up that you purchase, you get double or triple the value of air time purchased.
SMART Belize appeals to young users and has been investing heavily in its infrastructure and capitalizing on various miscues the government controlled BTL / Digicell combo has been making.
Its 3G service has won praise from BTL customers as faster than what the current government controlled monopoly is offering. SMART / SPEEDNET announced in November 2012 that it had broken the strangle hold on Internet access controlled by the Belize government by buying connectivity from neighboring Mexico.
Belize Telephone and Internet system
Above-average system in Central America; trunk network based primarily on fibre optic underground network backed up by microwave radio relay
Domestic: fixed-line teledensity of 10 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular teledensity roughly 55 per 100 persons
International: country code – 501; landing point for the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) fiber-optic telecommunications submarine cable that provides links to South and Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and the US; satellite earth station – 8 (Intelsat – 2, unknown – 6) (2008)
As of 2012 the Belize government has ordered compulsory registration of all cell phone SIM cards for BTL, and all cell phone IMEI numbers from SMART. This has been sold to the public as a security measure to protect consumers. Observers believe it is really to facilitate government eavesdropping on communications.
Belize broadband access has the dubious distinction as offering the less bang for the buck in the region. A study conducted by the telco watchdog ICT Pulse, places Belize broadband access at the bottom of the barrel.